Cool Jobs: AADL board member Victoria Green on the future of Ann Arbor's libraries

Victoria Green has been an enthusiastic Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) patron since she moved to Ann Arbor in 1994 – but to her, that means more than just checking out books.

"My family has checked out looms, videos — even some of the giant games for our annual block party," she says. "And it goes beyond that. A sewing machine might be cost-prohibitive to someone who wants to learn to sew, but you can check it out from the library. Classroom teachers have access to models of human skulls, dinosaur bones, telescopes."

Green's appreciation for AADL and its uniquely diverse offerings ultimately led her to seek one of four open seats on the AADL board in November's election. She, along with Linh Song, Colleen Sherman, and incumbent Jamie Vander Broek, were the winners of those very cool jobs. Green also works a day job in information technology at the University of Michigan (U-M), and has an academic background in more traditional library materials; her undergraduate and graduate degrees are in English literature.

"Around me, my friends were stepping up and being involved in civic matters," she says. "I realized that I had the time, I could do this, and so I thought, 'Why am I not doing this?'"

Her win was amplified by Vander Broek, Song, and Sherman's victories. The four women made an acronym of their last names and campaigned jointly as SVSG for Ann Arbor District Library. Green had previously worked with Vander Broek on projects through U-M, and Vander Broek was connected to Sherman and Song, so the four decided to work together to pursue common goals for AADL.

A key part of the SVSG team's platform was renovating the downtown library. Green states that while the building isn't falling down, it could use some updating, possibly along the lines of recent upgrades made to AADL's Westgate branch.

"I heard a lot of positive things about that remodel," Green says. "People really like the quiet space around the fireplace, the open spaces for working … I never see people at the downtown branch working on their laptops. [The Westgate space] gives me a sense of what we don't have in the downtown location."

That said, Green adds, "The space is the space. At some point we will have to decide what we want to and what we can afford to do."

Cost issues were frequently cited in community debate over a failed 2012 bond proposal to renovate the downtown library. But Green is optimistic about the community's overall attitude towards such a project, chalking up the loss to what she describes as a "we can't afford this" mentality rather than a "we don't want to ever make this" mentality.

"I don't think people who voted against the bond proposal last time were anti-library but instead were concerned about value and affordability," she says. "If we could structure financing for a new downtown branch so it was affordable I think voters would absolutely support having that mix of engaging and contemplative spaces downtown."

Voters obviously responded to that message from the SVSG team, which also endorsed a continuing commitment to unusual new items in the library collection. Green believes that visibility was key in the SVSG campaign, as the team made appearances at AADL board meetings, the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, and the grand reopening of the Westgate branch.

"We didn't see the point of running separately," Green says. "We didn't know how you could pick amongst the four of us. We all love the library, believe it has done great things in the past, and want to do more of what we are already doing."

Her running mates express similar enthusiasm for each other's talents.

"No one pays attention like Victoria," Sherman says. "Her capacity for focus and her extensive curiosity have, as I've seen, led to new approaches to problem-solving because more information about an issue can be understood from the start. Self-awareness is a terrific asset in doing the work required by a trustee, and Victoria sees herself as she is. Well, maybe with an extra dose of humility thrown in."

While she is thrilled to work with her running mates, Green says she's also excited to work with the entire AADL board to meet all library patrons' needs.

"The library is for everyone — not just people who fit into a certain size clothing or a certain income level," she says. "After this last election, folks are feeling anxious and there is increased sensitivity by institutions to ensure that we have our welcome mats out. If someone is worried about divides in our larger community, the library can assuage that concern. We meet basic needs, we meet esoteric needs, for all people."

Patti Smith lives in Ann Arbor, the best city on earth. By day, she is a special education teacher. By night, she writes novels (that she hopes to sell one day) and articles for Mittenbrew, the Ann, Pulp, the Ann Arbor Observer, and Concentrate.

All photos by Doug Coombe.

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